The biennial Walker Cup is a 10-man amateur golf team competition contested by the United States of America (USA) and Great Britain and Ireland (GB&I).
First played in 1922 it is golf’s oldest international match pre-dating the Ryder Cup (1927) by 5 years.
The USA team is selected by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the GB&I one by The Royal & Ancient (R&A).
An international match was first suggested in December 1920 by George Herbert “Bert” Walker, who was the President of the USGA at that time.
Following World War I Walker was looking for ways to foster international relations and raise the profile of the game. Having attended the exciting final of the 1920 Amateur Championship at Muirfield, where Cyril Tolley (ENG) beat Robert Gardner (USA) on the 37th hole, he was persuaded that international competition was the way forward.
Walker was the maternal grandfather and great-grandfather of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush respectively, the 41st and 43rd Presidents of the United States.
With his plan approved Mr. Walker commissioned Tiffany & Co. to produce a silver trophy. A trophy measuring 36″ in height and 20″ in width and inscribed “The United States Golf Association International Challenge Trophy” was finished in May 2021.
One may assume that some of his inspiration for this endeavour came from his friend and fellow St. Louis C.C. member, Dwight F. Davis, who founded the Davis Cup for tennis in 1900.
Walker invited all of the then golfing nations to compete for the trophy. However, in the aftermath of The Great War none of the other countries were able to fund or more importantly select a competitive team.
This is the point at which William ‘Bill’ C. Fownes Jr stepped into the story. Fownes, the 1910 U.S. Amateur champion, was an experienced and successful player from Oakmont C.C. and a fellow USGA Committee man. He had also led the USA team in International Matches against Canada in 1919 and 1920 which Walker had attended.
He now set his heart on a USA player winning the Amateur Championship and was determined to lead a strong group across the Atlantic in 1921 to hopefully achieve this goal. Fownes persuaded seven other leading American players to travel to England to play alongside him in the 1921 Amateur Championship at Royal Liverpool G.C.
With the spirit of international competition in the air he approached Norman Boase, the R&A Championship Chairman, to see if an unofficial match between USA and Great Britain could be arranged as a precursor to the main event. Gershom Stewart MP, captain of Royal Liverpool G.C. in 1921, was agreeable and the three of them established the foursomes and singles format which has broadly continued ever since.
The match took place on Saturday 21st May 1921 and attracted crowds estimated at 10,000. USA proved their credentials by winning 9-3.
Further discussions took place at Hoylake between the two governing bodies, The USGA and The R&A, and an agreement to an international match between USA and Great Britain & Ireland was reached. Without Fownes’ determination and resourcefulness who knows whether the course of history would have taken the same route.
The first proper match, by that time christened ‘The Walker Cup’ by the press, then took place in 1922 at National Golf Links of America, one of the club’s Walker was a member of.
The match has always been played in a good spirit with the traditions of the game and the friendship between the USGA and R&A, golf’s two governing bodies, at it’s heart.
The 49th Walker Cup match took place at St. Andrews in Scotland in September 2023. USA won 11.5 – 14.5 and now lead the 97 year old competition W39-L9-D1.
This unassailable lead is a result of the one-sided nature of the matches up until 1987. USA won 28 out of the first 31 matches, with GB&I winning just two and halving the other.
Signed 2019 Walker Cup Flag (Photo: GolfBible)
This one-sided history should come as no surprise given the differences in population and amateur golfing structure. The USA has a population of 320m whereas GB&I has only 70m. The US College system also provides a structured pathway to the pro game for US players which means that few consider turning pro until they are at least 22. Without this option the GB&I team continue to fight a losing battle with the pro game to retain their stronger young players.
Thankfully since 1989 the contests have become far more competitive with GB&I winning 7 of the 18 matches contested in this more recent period.
Since the start of the 1990’s home advantage has become key with away wins increasingly scarce, albeit USA narrowly won in both 2019 at Royal Liverpool and 2023 on the Old Course.
The next Walker Cup match will be played in September 2025 at Cypress Point G.C. in California, USA.
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